Up in the wild blue yonder, balloons are set to soar in Olathe

07/30/2013 4:08 PM

07/30/2013 4:08 PM

The sky above the Great Mall of the Great Plains in Olathe will be ablaze with bright colors when the Great Midwest Balloon Festival floats back into town Aug. 9-10.

The festival, now in its fourth year, is the brainchild of Steve and Robbie Small of Leawood. The couple was visiting their daughter in Albuquerque, N.M., a few years ago when they attended a popular balloon festival there. Amid the colorful balloons and festive atmosphere, an idea was sparked.

“After going to it, I came home and said, ‘Why don’t we have anything like that?’” Robbie Small said.

So Small started researching and found out that cities all over the country hosted similar hot air balloon festivals. Their first festival was held in a field in Overland Park, the last two at the Great Mall of the Great Plains. Roughly 50,000 people attended last year. Improvements are made from year to year, but the goals are always the same.

“One is to provide a family-friendly event for the metro area and another is to provide money to charities,” Small said.

The festival raised about $40,000 last year for local charities. Small is hoping that number will increase to $50,000 this year.

More than 20 different charities benefit from the festival’s proceeds. Some of the charities that raise money include the Ronald McDonald House, the Children’s Miracle Network, the Humane Society and an organization called Giving the Basics.

New to the festival this year is a hare and hounds charity challenge balloon race. One balloon, which is the hare, takes off. Then the others — the hounds — chase it. The balloons that land closest to the targets on the ground win one of three prizes for the charity to whom they’ve been randomly matched. First prize is $10,000; second prize is $3,500 and third wins $1,500.

Area charities also play a big role in the festival by helping to staff it. Small says this year’s festival boasts more than four times the volunteers of past years and that’s good news for festival goers.

“If you have enough volunteers around it makes for a smoother run event,” Small said.

Another new attraction at this year’s festival is a carnival. Other family-friendly activities include inflatables for kids, face-painting, a pie-eating contest and food vendors. Tethered balloon rides will also be available for $10 per person.

The event will also feature live music. The band The Elders takes to the stage at 9 p.m. Aug. 9. The Scott Peery band will perform at 9 p.m. Aug. 10.

Festival goers also will be treated to six specially shaped hot air balloons. This year’s balloons include Noah’s Ark, Humpty Dumpty, a shark, a purple people eater, a skunk and a replica of the old woman who lives in a shoe.

“The Noah’s Ark balloon is three times as big as a regular hot air balloon,” Small said.

One of the festival’s most popular events is the all-balloon glow, which takes place nightly at 8 p.m.

“They are like big glowing light bulbs,” Small said. “There is a magic to it. The balloons themselves are magical. Balloon events are among the most photographed events in the world.”

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